The Early History of Malaspina College
Today, Malaspina College is characterized by the abundance of arbutus trees and green canopies found on its beautiful campus nestled in the hills above the city of Nanaimo - and by its new name: Malaspina University-College. But, by whatever name, it is an institution which routinely interacts with and contributes to many communities on and around Vancouver Island.
Twenty years ago, this beautiful campus did not exist. Twenty-five years ago, the College was in its humble beginning stages at the old Nanaimo Hospital on Kennedy Street. Thirty years ago, having a college on Vancouver Island was only a great vision in the minds of a few dedicated and hard-working people. Before there was a campus, before there were teachers, before there was a name, "Malaspina College" was just an idea. It was an idea that began flowering in the early 1960's and came to its fruition in 1969 after seven years of strenuous work by a group of ambitious individuals in the areas of central and northern Vancouver Island.
At the outset of the 1960's, the community college was becoming a real possibility for meeting the post-secondary needs of British Columbia. Community colleges were in abundance down in California and other states, but the concept was quite new to B.C. At the time, the province was growing at a much higher rate than other areas of Canada. As a result, the number of post-secondary institutions would have to be increased. The government could see that in a very short time its only degree granting institution, the University of British Columbia, would not be able to fully meet the educational needs of the rising population. Were community colleges the answer to the province's educational difficulties? It was a question that sparked interest and controversy all across British Columbia. To answer this question, the government appointed Dr. John B. MacDonald, the new president of the University of British Columbia, to write a report indicating the direction education must take to meet the needs of the future.
Many people did not think that community colleges were the answer. In fact, Dr. John Dennison, who is now a professor of higher education at UBC, says that many people were:
expressing the most peculiar reasons why British Columbia did not need colleges. For example, "We already have a fine university and any other academic institution would be second class," or "We could never find enough qualified faculty," or "Formal education is not needed for most jobs; it only makes people dissatisfied," or "We could never afford it," or "It would be a haven for educational bums," and believe it or not, the most incredible argument of all, "The community college is an American idea, and therefore, cannot be any good."
Dr. MacDonald was not of this opinion. In 1962, he submitted the report, "Higher Education In British Columbia and A Plan for the Future", which became widely known as the MacDonald Report. He suggested that the government create new universities in heavily populated areas as well as beginning a number of community colleges across the province. He gave two reasons for building regional colleges. These colleges would: (1) take the pressure off the universities which were certain to grow, and (2) create post-secondary educational opportunities for people in more remote areas of British Columbia.
This second point was an important one. Much earlier, in a thesis entitled, "The Junior College In British Columbia", that dates back to 1932, W.W.D. Knott argued that more students dropped out of high school in the remote areas of British Columbia because they did not have easy access to post-secondary educational opportunities. In California, where colleges existed in abundance, high school drop-out rates were only a fraction of the rates in B.C. He suggested that having colleges in the immediate vicinity gave the students incentive to continue their education.
The MacDonald Report had a great impact on higher education in the province. MacDonald's argument, coming from a known and respected professional, was enough to calm many skeptics of the college concept. However, as Dr. Dennison said, "there was a great movement at the time that said, 'sure, let's have colleges, but put them under the controls of the universities, so that nothing can go wrong; so that we can protect standards.' Dr. MacDonald said that these new institutions must have freedom. The colleges were given freedom and I think this has been their strongest point." Dr. MacDonald did make this point very clear in his report. He said:
Two requirements are fundamental to the promotion of excellence in British Columbia's higher education. These are: first, diversification of opportunity, both in the respect of the kinds of educational experience available, and the places where it can be obtained; the second requirement is self-government of individual institutions in respect to setting objectives, standards, admissions, selection of staff, curricula, personnel policies, and all the things that go to make up the operation of the college.
It was this report that signaled the beginning of community colleges in British Columbia. In essence, this report was the first step that led to the realization of Malaspina College. There was a real need; there was now a method of meeting the need. To get from idea to reality required action.
The government was quick to respond to the suggestions made in the MacDonald Report. Simon Fraser University was built on Burnaby Mountain and Victoria College, which was a junior college of UBC, was made into a degree granting institution, becoming the University of Victoria. The first college in B.C. was created in 1965, when King Edward Center combined with the Vancouver Vocational School and the Vancouver School of Art to form Vancouver City College. The next came in 1966 with Selkirk College in Castlegar. In 1968 two more colleges were created in the lower mainland: Capilano College in North Vancouver and Okanagan College in Kelowna. In 1969 the College of New Caledonia became the fifth regional college in B.C.
Contrary to the suggestion of Knott thirty years earlier, these colleges were not to be junior colleges under the control of the universities. Instead, they would be community colleges. They would come into existence through local demand, not by government implementation. They would be funded both provincially and locally -- 50/50. Local funding would ensure greater local interest and active participation. This would lead to colleges that would be community oriented and would reflect the needs of the surrounding areas. Community Colleges would belong to communities and provide post-secondary opportunities of various sorts for the citizens in those communities. No longer would students seeking post-secondary opportunities be required to move to Vancouver for study at UBC.
During this time, no colleges had been created to serve the citizens of Vancouver Island. However, there was a college in the making. It was a plan that had been brewing as far back as 1962, right around the time when the MacDonald Report came out. The planners involved even had a name picked out. The new community college would be called Malaspina College.
Pioneering Malaspina College, 1962-1969
Once government approval was given for community colleges, it was not long before a group of people on Vancouver Island became interested. The prospect of having a college on the Island brought together some very dedicated people. This was a group who believed that all the people of Vancouver Island should have accessibility to an education. This group of visionaries was diverse, ranging from civilians, to school board trustees, to government officials, to educators. In fact, in the final stages of the college formation, all the people of the five participating regions played a role in making the college a reality when they voted for it through a plebiscite on September 30, 1967.
On Vancouver Island, the story starts in Nanaimo on October 24,1962 when a request to the School Board by the local council on education results in the formation of a community college coordinating committee. A month later, on November 28th, School District #68 in Nanaimo, under Trustee Joe Shook, holds a panel discussion on community colleges. They propose that a college study be done. They think a college can be formed either through the already existing Vocational Training School, or by way of a survey carried out in liaison with UBC. The Community Colleges' Committee holds some informal meetings in the following months.
On May 31, 1963, only six months after the initial panel discussion, a meeting with the Minister of Education takes place. The Minister, Les Peterson, has a number of suggestions for the Committee's plans. He says that community colleges are for post-high school education only and will not include adult basic education. He says that they may be able to use the facilities of the Vocational Training School (VTS) and the secondary schools until permanent facilities were built. He also mentions that there is an unused 10-20 acre area next to the VTS which eventually may be a suitable location for a permanent college campus. Lastly, he says that the Committee must wait to see how regional colleges perform in other areas before they can go ahead on Vancouver Island. According to the MacDonald Report, this performance evaluation and recommendation for additional institutions might not be anticipated until 1971.
In the following month the Community College Committee had a meeting to plan their next moves. Their first move was to change the term "community college" to "regional college." This was an important step because it would let people know that the college was intended to serve a number of communities in the larger region of Central Vancouver Island and not just Nanaimo. The province later came to think that the idea of a regional college was indeed a good one. The committee had taken the first step.
The next step was a defining principle that would play an important role in constituting the unique aspect of the regional college. The principle of equal access led the Committee to affirm that the college was to have an open door policy to best serve all students of participating communities. As their next step, the Committee had to arouse interest in surrounding school districts. For a college to be created, it was necessary to have the support of at least one other school district.
As it turned out, there are seven other school districts interested. These are: Cowichan (65), Lake Cowichan (66), Ladysmith (67), Parksville-Qualicum (69), Port Alberni (70), Courtney (71), and Campbell River (72). On July 27, 1964, the Central Vancouver Island Higher Education Coordinating Committee is formed with all nine of the districts represented except for Vancouver Island North. Dr. Roy MacMillan, a Nanaimo dentist and a trustee with district #68 is elected Chairman of the Committee.
Previous to these events, in October of 1962, the districts of Courtenay and Campbell River were talking about a community college in the North Island area. They thought that it would be the next step in education in that area. They had planned to form a joint committee for the Upper Island area but this step was never taken. Instead, they joined forces with the Nanaimo committee, to try to form a college in the region north of the Malahat. As it turns out, these efforts were in vain. In the end, both of these districts declined to participate in the regional district being formed on central Vancouver Island.
Early in the following year, the Committee invites the School Districts 85 (Vancouver Island North), 84 (Vancouver Island West), and 79 (Ucluelet-Tofino) to participate in their work on the same basis as the other school districts. The only one to respond is the Island North District which sends A. Hennigar from Woss Lake as their representative. Roy MacMillan recalls the amount of work this woman put into trying to get her district to participate:
She traveled more than anybody to come to these meetings. She never missed one. She was up at Woss Lake and she had to fly out sometimes. If the weather was bad she would come down in a truck, but she was always there. She was 100% for the college and so was Woss Lake, but they were just too far away and it didn't work out.
With the addition of A. Hennigar as the Vancouver Island North representative, the Committee now has fourteen members from nine different districts:
Dr. Roy MacMillan Chair, non-voting member, Nanaimo 68
Will Dobson Cowichan, 65
Don Hammond Lake Cowichan 66
Ray Chamberlayne Ladysmith 67
J.E. Whitlam Nanaimo 68
Gordon Chamberlayne Qualicum 69
Pauline Touzeau Qualicum 69
Carl Anshelm Alberni 70
Brian Walker Courtney 71
A. Wilkinson Campbell River 72 (office manager)
Dr. Leonard Marsh UBC sociologist
Bruce Saunders Campbell River 72
A. Hennigar Island North SD 85
J.W.McPherrin Nanaimo 68 (Secretary)
Prior to the Committee's formation, it is agreed that it is necessary to undertake a comprehensive survey to determine the needs and specifications for a regional college that will serve Vancouver Island. The Faculty of Education at University of British Columbia say they will sponsor the survey and provide some personnel to help carry out the study. As a result, a UBC sociologist, Dr. Leonard Marsh, is appointed to make a report of this survey. By 1965, Part I of the Marsh Report has been completed and is sent to the Minister of Education, the three universities, and to the B.C. School Trustees' Association. In 1966, Part II is finished and is sent off with Part I to the Academic Board.
In his report, Dr. Marsh suggests that, "the focal centre which comes nearest to equalizing accessibility for the Qualicum-Alberni-Nanaimo-Duncan constellation is approximately 5-10 miles north of Nanaimo." To accommodate the North Island Region, he suggests that a branch campus be built somewhere between Courtenay and Campbell River. In having a branch campus, the college will be attempting to follow their 'open-door' policy, which would ensure that students from all districts in the region have equal access to the college. It is suggested that the college could also conform to this policy by offering travel and living subsidies to students who have to commute to the college or live away from home while attending classes. In an attempt to emphasize their 'open door' policy, the Committee invites Powell River District to participate at the meetings. Powell River responds with interest.
At this point, the Committee feels that it would be valuable to have a field representative who would help in disseminating information on the regional college to the participating communities. Committee member J.E. Whitlam is the lucky candidate and is to occupy the position for three months until June 30, 1966. Dr. MacMillan recalls that, "Jack was what I called my 'field officer'. George McKnight in Port Alberni would get up and say some statement against the college and I would shoot Jack up there to counteract it. The same thing would happen in Parksville." There are similar troubles in Duncan. Soon, Jack becomes known as the Committee's 'trouble-shooter' and travels extensively throughout the participating districts to rally support for the proposed regional college. In these early stages of development, Whitlam shows great enthusiasm for the college idea and is instrumental in getting the survey initiated and into the hands of Dr. Marsh. In June, he asks Frank Sloat, a Nanaimo vice-principal, to begin a survey in the participating communities to find out what kind of courses will be useful and desired in the region. Many proposals are sent in from citizens and Island businesses.
Finally, in February of the following year, the nine districts involved adopt a by-law asking for a plebiscite date. Two months later, the Council of Public Instruction of the Department of Education sets September 30, 1967 as the official plebiscite date. On that date, the following question was asked of all the voters of the nine regions:
Are you in favour of your school district participating in the establishment and operation of a regional college to serve residents of Vancouver Island, North of the Malahat: the main campus to be located adjacent to , but north of Nanaimo, and branch campuses to be located as soon as they become educationally and economically feasible?
The plebiscite is held and six of the nine districts vote yes! The College region will include Cowichan, Lake Cowichan, Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Parksville-Qualicum, and Campbell River. The districts of Port Alberni, Courtenay, and Island North will not participate. Initially, because of a clause in the Public Schools Act, there is some difficulty with the fact that Campbell River is not an 'adjoining' district. Two months after the plebiscite, the Department of Education gives Campbell River special permission to participate in the college region.
The in-region districts had some advantages over the out-of-region districts. Students in the participating districts eventually receive travel subsidies of $10 a month if they live more than 25 miles away from the campus. A boarding subsidy of $40 a month is offered to in-region students who have to live away from home while going to the college. In addition, to this, the first year of classes will only cost $200 for in-region students whereas out-of-region students pay double that amount.
At this time, Grade 13 still exists in some school districts in B.C. and is thought of as a preparatory year for university. For all in-region districts, Grade 13 will be dropped from the high schools. With college courses to supplement their education, high school students will no longer need Grade 13.
Although the plebiscite has been successful, the Committee waits until some time in 1968 for the Department of Education to take further action to get the College under way. Dr. MacMillan recalls the situation:
We had that hiatus for about a year in about 1968 where nothing was happening. The plebiscite had been passed and we were just waiting for the government to make the college an entity...We phoned and we went down to Victoria for interviews and sessions and finally Jack Whitlam and I got together and we dreamt up a telegram. We sent this to Les Petersen and it said: 'We can no longer justify the inaction of the government in the formation of a college in this area. The natives are getting restless. Cannot uphold the government's point of view much longer.' That did it. Right after that, he phoned me in my office and said, 'Listen to this.' He was in the legislative chamber and he held the phone up and I could hear them proclaiming the formation of Nanaimo's Regional College. They passed it right there.
On July 26, 1968, the Vancouver Island College Coordinating Committee holds their thirtieth and last meeting. On this day, the first College Council is formed (later to be called the College Board) and Jack Whitlam is named as the first Chairman. Roy Macmillan becomes College Councilor. These appointments are fitting, as it is apparent by the words Dr. Marsh bestows on the original Coordinating Committee members in the introduction to his report:
I feel that it is entirely proper that their names should be included on the title pages; and I believe they will agree with me in tendering special thanks to Dr. W. Roy MacMillan for his services as chairman, to Mr. Jack Whitlam for his energy and enthusiasm in initiating the Survey, and to Mr. J. W. McPherrin for his efficient secretaryship.
J.W. McPherrin, the Secretary-Treasurer for the Nanaimo school board, acted in the same capacity for the coordinating committee. When the College Council is formed Oliver E. Neaves, who is from Burns Lake, is brought in to relieve McPherrin of his duties. Neaves is the first employee of the College, beginning his appointment on January 1, 1969. He moves into the College's temporary office at 460 Wallace Street to start preparing for opening day in the following September.
According to the Public Schools Act, in addition to these three positions the Council must have representatives from: each of the participating districts; the government (2), and a district superintendent. Two other members from the original Coordinating Committee, Bruce Saunders and Don Hammond, are on the Council. So, the first College Council for Malaspina was comprised of the following members:
J.L. Whitlam Chair, Government Representative
Dick Christmas Cowichan 65
Bill Sutherland Lake Cowichan 66
Beatty Davis Ladysmith 67
Dr. MacMillan Nanaimo 68
Peter Mason Qualicum 69
Bruce Saunders Campbell River 72 (withdrew Jan,1969)
Don Hammond L Cowichan, 2nd Government Representative
Harley Abbott Nanaimo, Official District Superintendant
O.E. Neaves Secretary-Treasurer
At the first meeting of the College Council it is decided that the name of the college will be Malaspina College. This name had been decided upon informally by the previous Coordinating Committee at the recommendation of Bruce Saunders.
A Brief History of Commodore Malaspina
The name of the College comes from the explorer Commodore Alejandro Malaspina. He was an Italian explorer working as a naval officer for the King of Spain in the late eighteenth century. Malaspina's exploits are many, but the most famous was the scientific expedition which he planned, organized, and carried out with two corvettes under his command -- Descubierta (Discovery) and Atrevida (Daring). This project was called the "Plan of a Scientific and Political Voyage Around the World". The expedition brought him to the Pacific Ocean and the west coast of Canada during the five year period, 1789-1794. His name, Malaspina, for the new college seemed appropriate since in a real sense the founding of the college required a scientific and political voyage which was equally creative and audacious, and which charted unknown territory.
During in this period, Malaspina was to search for the Northwest Passage. Using a Spanish outpost at Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island as a home base, he searched for the Northwest Passage along the coast of Alaska as high as Prince William Sound. Of course, he never found it.
He- returned to Spain in 1794 with 14,000 plant specimens, 70 artifacts for the Royal Museum, and extensive documentation on political, economic, and social issues in the Pacific Rim. Surely he was justified in believing that his expedition had been a success, but the Spanish authorities did not share his belief and summarily threw him into jail. While on his journey, he urged Spain to abandon their conquest of natives in far-off nations. He also suggested that a Pacific Rim trading bloc be formed by the Spaniards and run from Alcapulco, Mexico all the way up to the upper parts of what is now British Columbia (thus becoming the first proponent of NAFTA!). It was for these unpopular political and economic observations, for his failure to find the Northwest Passage, and for his dealings with the English (he met with Captain Vancouver off Point Grey), that he was thrown in jail. He was imprisoned for eight years without trial and his name was erased from official record. He died on April 9, 1810. His discoveries went relatively unknown until 1885 when Pedro de Novo y Colson published his journal.
In addition to being attributed to Alejandro Malaspina, the Malaspina name had been recognized for hundreds of years as a family which generously supported art and education, as Education Minister, the Hon. D. L. Brothers later notes at the opening ceremonies of the College:
In 1302 after Dante had been exiled from Florence he found little hospitality in other parts of Italy because at that time there were feudal land lords in Italy. They were arrogant and they were ignorant and they cared little for poets, with the exception of the Malaspina family in Italy, whose hospitality was so well known in Italy even in those days that it was noted in troubadour poetry.
"Malaspina" was an appropriate name for this new institution: it suggested daring, hospitality, uniqueness, independence, courage, vision, and discovery.
Smoothing Out the Edges -- College Formation, 1968-1969
One month after the first College Council is formed, the first College Citizens' Committee is also formed. This committee is to convey the needs of the community to the College. The members will also have a stand-by role, ready to become active whenever necessary. The first Citizens Committee is as follows:
P.F. Owen Cowichan
Leonard Antoine Cowichan
G. Carpenter Lake Cowichan
Clifford McCulloch Lake Cowichan
J.A. MacNaughton Ladysmith
Mrs. V.McMahon Ladysmith
A.A. Brown Ladysmith
C.W. Ramsden Nanaimo
Jack Parker Nanaimo
Frank O.E. Murphy Nanaimo
Mrs. Touzeau Qualicum
Peter Mason Qualicum
Peter Mason is initially on the College Council representing Qualicum. When his term runs out in January, 1969, he is replaced by Avis Mitchell and is appointed to the Citizens' Committee.
In the original plan, the plebiscite is to be followed by a financial referendum so that the districts can decide where the money for the College will be raised. However, shortly after the plebiscite, the provincial government makes what is to become a significant change in this procedure. They decree that the College should be in temporary quarters in the first years of operation before holding the referendum. So, at the August 9th meeting, the Council decides that the College should begin to look for temporary quarters. Dr. MacMillan says, "at Selkirk, where they built the college first and then tried to make the curriculum fit the campus, they had serious problems." At the temporary quarters, the College will be able to see what its physical needs at the permanent campus will be. This will be determined by the first few years of curriculum development. The temporary quarters are to be found and ready for September of the following year. This will be in 1969, two years earlier than the Education Minister had predicted in 1962. The College idea is quickly becoming a reality.
Many events that give shape to the College unfold in the following months. By December of 1968, the Council is already planning the curriculum. They ask local businesses and citizens for suggestions and input regarding possible courses.
Within the region the first signs of trouble erupt. In early December, in an opinion poll taken in Campbell River, the people voted against having the College housed in temporary quarters. Bruce Saunders, the Campbell River representative on the Council, said the vote was put to the people because of the changes made with the original plebiscite agreement. In late December, there is a rumour that Campbell River will indeed opt out of the agreement.
In the same month the Council is looking for a president for their new College. The position is posted in papers and at universities across Canada, in the States and in some places in the Europe. In all, the Council receives 76 applications for the position. They eventually decide on a man who has experience in an infant college such as this one. He is in Edmonds, Washington where he works as the Dean of Instruction and Acting President at the community college. He has his Ph.D. in education with emphasis on administration and curricula. He is the perfect man for the job. This man who is chosen as the first president of Malaspina College is Dr. Carl Opgaard. He formally accepts the position on January 20, 1969 and he is to begin in February. In his first months as the president of Vancouver Island's first Regional College, he will be planning curricula, making faculty appointments, preparing for operation in the fall, and helping to choose the temporary quarters.
Don Hammond is the Chairman of the Sites Committee. This Committee considered many possibilities for the temporary site:
The Committee even looked into the possibility of using converted railway cars, barges and ships as well as various unoccupied buildings which showed some possibility of suitability for classroom use.
The Nanaimo school board also offers the College use of its facilities in the afternoons and evenings. However, this would mean adjusting the adult education classes that are already taking place in the schools. By January, the number of possibilities is narrowed to three: the old Indian hospital; the old Nanaimo Hospital, or leasing some land (possibly the DND land next to the VTS) and using portables. Hammond says, "it would be awkward to make any decision before the new president had an opportunity to express his views." So, they wait for the president.
While they wait, the Region receives a slight shock. On January 24, 1969, Campbell River writes the College informing them of their intention to withdraw. Bruce Saunders says that their problem with the college plan centers around the legality of a decision to open the college in temporary quarters before the region has had a financial referendum. In addition to the withdrawal, Saunders, the Campbell River representative and vice-chairman of the College Council, hands in his resignation. The defection of Campbell River means that the other five school boards will have to pay about one-third more for operations.
On February 13th, Dr. Carl Opgaard arrives and begins his duties as president. His primary aim is to stretch the $570,000 budget for 1969 operations to bring a number of basic courses to the region. He starts on a positive note, saying that he wants to create an institution that offers a "balanced and comprehensive program." He mentions other advantages that the College will have:
I hope the college will provide as good or better university standard courses in the first two years. We can do this because unlike universities we do not have a divided responsibility -- such as research or graduate schools and will be able to concentrate on providing both academic and technical programs which will fit the needs of industry and of the people who want training.
He extends an invitation for the region to have public discussions to determine the educational needs of the communities involved.
New Hospitality on Kennedy Street
With the president in Nanaimo, Don Hammond's committee can make a final decision on the temporary site. With only months before the opening, the Council cannot afford to waste any time. By February 28th, the deed is done. The president and the Council sign a four-year contract to lease the old Nanaimo hospital.
Oliver Neaves recalls: "we were searching for a building and then we hit on the hospital. On our first entry into the hospital we saw about a quarter of an inch of ice on all of the walls. There was no heating in the place and there was condensation. It looked a real mess, but it had potential." Indeed it is a real mess. There are holes in the inner walls, dirt all over the outer walls, and plumbing fixtures scattered around the property. But it has potential.
The 44-year-old building is a four story masonry structure which was originally opened as a hospital in August, 1925 by the Lieutenant-Governor, Walter C. Nichol. When it could no longer meet the demands of a rising population and technological advances in medicine, a new building was needed. No contractor would venture to buy the building because the zoning restricted the building's possible uses. It deteriorated, sitting empty and unused until it was bought in 1967 by Kendrick C. Wall. He proposed that the building be converted into a low-cost apartment complex but, once again, the zoning regulations would not allow it in a residential area.
Schools were allowed in residential areas and this is what the old hospital became when Wall signed the 4-year lease with Malaspina College. Wall bought the building less than two years earlier for $32,000. It sounds like he makes an incredible deal when he signs the lease with Malaspina College, but this isn't the case. The old building is in a state of great disrepair. In fact, there are rumours that it is condemned. As a part of the lease agreement, Wall puts $175,000 into renovations on the building. The College will pay $62,000 per year for the lease -- this includes heat (although some students were later reported to ask, "What heat?"). Wall says it amounts to $1.52 per square foot for the 40,000 square foot structure.
After the temporary site is finally found, another problem arises. The Cowichan school trustees (65) decide that they will not allow Campbell River to withdraw from their agreement to participate in the college. According to the Public Schools Act, Campbell River cannot be released until the rest of the participating districts vote on the issue. The vote is held and Cowichan was the only district that will not allow the withdrawal. Phillip Sampson, the secretary for Campbell River's school board, responds to Cowichan's plea: "We are not asking to be released and Cowichan's views are irrelevant."
Despite this attitude from Campbell River, Duncan (Cowichan) still objects. Since the action of Campbell River will increase the monetary commitment of the people in Duncan, the district refuses to give consent. Although it is not clear at this point, this also means that their school board will not pay their assessment for the college operations. For the time, the problem is manageable. It is not until a year later that Duncan's shouts are heard again.
In January, Avis Mitchell had replaced Peter Mason as the Qualicum representative on the College Council. Since then she became the Chair of the Housing Committee. In May she and Jack Whitlam make a public appeal, asking the residents of Nanaimo to make rooms or room and board available to the students who will be coming from other destinations to study at the College.
Rendezvous at the Hub
The hiring process for the faculty and staff must begin immediately to meet the deadline for the college opening in September. Advertisements are placed in numerous newspapers and sent to universities in Canada and the U.S. Most of the positions are to begin on August 1, 1969, but some will begin sooner. Many applicants respond and Carl Opgaard begins a long series of job interviews over the following months.
The first administration and faculty members come from a variety of places across the continent. Some of them come from the East and some from the West. Some come from towns similar to Nanaimo and others from big cities like Montreal or Vancouver. Moving to the Island, they have to settle into a new environment and a new job. When they arrive, each of them has her or his own varying impressions of both the city and its new college.
By March a Dean of Administration is chosen to work with Carl Opgaard. Harold Macbeth Brown, who acts in the same capacity at Vancouver City College, is chosen for the position. He has experience in teaching, counseling, and administration at the college level. Hal Brown is to begin his appointment as Dean of Administration on May 1st.
Many more positions are filled by April. Appointed as director of technical programs is Dr. A.B.L. Whittles. From the University of Victoria, Elizabeth Forrester is chosen to be Malaspina's first geography instructor. Ralph E. Vernon will come from VCC to instruct math and Gael Tower, from Mt. Royal College in Calgary to teach art.
In June, Bart Sorensen is chosen to be the Humanities Chairman. He has international teaching experience with a focus on communications, speech and drama. He had moved from Oregon to Victoria in 1968.
Another one of the first instructors to be chosen is Ed Hong, who will teach Chemistry at Malaspina. Ed Hong is coming from the Northern College of Applied Arts and Technology where he started a one-person Chemistry Department and then later became the chairman of the Technology Department. Because of his experience, Carl Opgaard also assigns him to be the Area Chairman for Math and Sciences.
Today, Hong remembers his first trip to Nanaimo as a pleasurable experience. He says, "Nanaimo was quite nice. I was delighted on the ferry ride over here. Now it is a common thing -- I'm used to it. But my first ferry ride was a fantastic experience. It was a nice bright sunny day and I stayed out on the deck area taking pictures almost the entire trip."
It seems that Bob Lane, who is hired to coordinate the English Department, has a similar first reaction to Nanaimo. Lane had just been granted tenure early in 1969 in the English Department at Southwestern Oregon Community College down the coast in Coos Bay, Oregon when he receives a phone call from Bart Sorensen. Sorensen is a former professor and friend who taught Lane at Santa Barbara Junior College and who later worked at the same college in Oregon. He suggests that Lane come up and work at an infant college in Nanaimo. Today, Lane recalls that day: "I wasn't at all that happy with what was going on in the States in terms of the military and the politics at that time. I remember when the call came and he asked me, 'How would you like to come and teach at a new college in Nanaimo?' I thought, 'where's Nanaimo?'"
Lane does end up taking the position which Bart Sorensen suggests. When he finishes teaching the summer courses at the college in Oregon, he heads up to Nanaimo. He recalls, "we were coming from Oregon and came across the strait from Vancouver and I was absolutely astounded. It was so incredibly beautiful coming from that direction. A friend of mine who came to Nanaimo drove up from Victoria and said it was the worst looking town he had ever seen in his life. So it all depended on how you entered."
And so it does. In the late summer of 1969, Geri Evans (now Geri Reamer) comes into Nanaimo for her first time on the Island Highway from the South. Today, she remembers her first impressions: "When I came to Nanaimo, I found it very disappointing. I came up from Victoria and coming through the south part of town on that first day made a very bad impression on me. I was expecting a nice small town but it was pretty grungy."
In the spring of 1969, Evans is working as a teacher and part-time secretary in Labrador City Newfoundland. She is interested in working in B.C., so she writes to a number of school boards asking them if they run any secretarial diploma programs. Roy MacMillan responds to her letter, saying that he is interested in interviewing her for a position at a new college. She informs him that she intends to go to Oregon for the summer to work on her Master's, so he arranges to meet her at the Vancouver airport for an interview. She recalls, "the interview went well and I'm still here today." She is hired to teach Secretarial Arts at the college.
Other faculty come across the job in yet another way. Diane Einblau finishes her Masters Degree at SFU and comes over to Vancouver Island with a friend for a brief holiday at a cabin in Lantzville. She remembers the year: "This was at a time when Dot's Coffee Shop was still owned by the original Dot. People would come from other parts of the world to have a Dot's pie." Einblau's holiday is suddenly interrupted when she runs across an ad in a local newspaper. A new regional college is looking for a sociology instructor and she decides to apply. She gets the job and her short jaunt to Vancouver Island is suddenly extended.
Lou Neering is finishing his Ph.D in chemistry at UBC in the spring of 1969. He remembers:
There was an ad, and I responded to the ad. Then there were interviews; first by Brice Whittles, and then by Carl Opgaard. I was not surprised to get the job, but I was lucky. In '69, there were jobs. In '70, there weren't very many jobs. By '71, the crunch hit. So people who I was in graduate school with, at UBC for instance, who came out a year or two later, ended up doing all sorts of strange things...I met someone who came out a year later than me driving a bus in Vancouver. So, I was lucky. At the time, you don't realize how lucky you are.
Neering also remembers coming to Nanaimo and starting work in August:
The very, very, very first day, we had no college. The building was still condemned at this stage...We had an office on Wallace Street across from the Rendezvous. That's where everything was happening at the time (at the office). So this is my first day of work, I'm fresh out of grad school, and I'm early. I'm there at eight-thirty. Apparently, nothing opened until nine. This other guy walks up and we kind of looked at each other. It turned out to be Gael Tower who was the first coordinator of the Arts Department. So we introduced ourselves and then we saw the Rendezvous across the street. So we went for coffee. The first thing I did on the job was to go for coffee. This is highly significant. I think that the coffee break is one of the great adventures of civilization.
Doug Bridges, who becomes the head of the Learning Resources Center at the college, doesn't hear about the job through another person or a newspaper. He recalls: "Carl Opgaard taught at the same high school where I was in Edmonds. He was the vice-principal, I think. He went on to another job at a new community college in Edmonds. I didn't hear about the job at Malaspina through him. I saw a posting at the University of Washington."
When he comes up to Nanaimo, Bridges has a big job ahead of him. He has to essentially create a library. Looking back on the situation, he says, "when I started the library, I had some help from a group called University Microfilm. They had a number of books that they considered 'essential' for a college." This is not to say it isn't hard work. At the time, there is no space available for Bridges to work in, since the old hospital is still being renovated. To make ends meet, he assembles the library in his new Nanaimo home.
In the Physics Department Ernie Jerome is hired. He will come from UBC where he has been teaching for the last four years while holding a National Research Council Fellowship. Although he is not the youngest of the first staff members, he certainly looks it. Doug Bridges remembers, "Ernie Jerome came in for his first day down at the office on Wallace Street. I remember Anne Patti, the secretary then, asked him to step behind the counter because she thought he was one of the students. Ernie was looking pretty young in those days."
Jeanneatte Matson and Marc Martin are the first counsellors for Malaspina students. Matson graduated at UBC and spent a year working in the area of social work in Powell River and Burnaby before coming to Malaspina. Martin has two graduate degrees from the University of Ottawa. He is also a sports enthusiast who says he takes pride in the fact that at one time he had coached the NHL's Serge Savard.
Dave Kerridge comes up from UVic to teach Biology. Kevin Roberts, Dave Harrison, and Dale Lovick come to make up the rest of the English Department. Terry Avery will teach electronics. Ernst Poschenreider makes up the first Economics Department. Janet Fisher will be teaching languages. Jim Cooling is Malaspina's first History instructor. Lelia Morey takes on the position as the Psychology instructor and the Chairman for the Social Sciences Department. Cornelius J. Swart comes with teaching experience from VCC and BCIT to teach developmental reading courses at Malaspina. Joe McPeek will join Ralph Vernon in teaching Math.
John Buckingham comes from the East where he participated in the development of St. Lawrence College, a three-year college in Ontario. He first heard of Malaspina College shortly after the Marsh Report was published and kept his eye on its development ever since. He comes to Malaspina to be its first registrar.
Additional staff members are appointed. Alan Field from San Francisco is appointed as the Staff Assistant to the President. He is replacing Will Dobson, a university student from Duncan who filled the position temporarily in the summer months (Dobson was also on the College Coordinating Committee). Field will be in charge of public relations. This position later falls under the title of Information Director until it finally becomes Director of Communications. E. T. Armstrong is appointed as the admissions and records secretary. Andy Sullivan comes on board as a business assistant on the office staff. Some of the original support staff at the College are Maxine Zurbrigg (said to be the first employee at the College), Anne Patti, Shirley MacMillan, and Margaret Hawco. By the time all the appointments have been made, there are about 35 employees at the College.
Around the month of June, Carl Opgaard and some of these new staff members tour the schools of the region asking the Grade 11 and 12 students pertinent questions to see what they think the value of the college is. There is a positive response. However, because the college did not announce the lease of the hospital until so late in the school year, many students had already planned ahead and applied to the universities. As a result of this, only about 400 students are expected in the first year of enrollment.
By the time August rolls around, aside from one or two exceptions, most of the staff for the college are in town. Ed Hong says, "when we first came, the college was just an office right across from the Diner's Rendez-Vous. It was just a little office building where we set up. A lot of meetings were held in basements of churches in the downtown area and some of them were held at the Diner's Rendezvous." The first faculty meeting, to be held on August 5, 1969, is in fact at the Diner's Rendezvous. In an article which later appears in "The Navigator", the College's student newspaper, Dave Harrison recalls this first faculty meeting:
As there were no rooms at the College ready to hold a meeting of 20 faculty with their president, that first faculty meeting on the sunny August afternoon took place at the Rendezvous. We shook hands a little formally with one another, and stood or sat around drinking coffee. Carl Opgaard welcomed us and in his typical low-key style of those days, announced that there was no agenda, no decisions to be made and in fact no meeting; there was enough for all that tomorrow. We toddled off to the steps of city hall to be welcomed by Mayor-and MLA-Frank Ney to the "Hub-Tub-and-Pub capital of the World". Culture had arrived in Nanaimo.
Lou Neering, to the surprise of some, came to this first meeting wearing a suit and tie. Neering was not known for his formal wear. He had decided that since they were going to meet the mayor, he would wear his suit. To everyone's surprise, Frank Ney greeted them wearing a pair of shorts and welcomed them with his "Hub-Tub-Pub" comment. Some say that is the last time Lou Neering ever wore a suit.
Meet the President!
So the staff have now met each other and the Mayor of the city in which they are going to live and work. They have also met their president, Carl Opgaard, who will be providing leadership in shaping the new college. What impressions do the faculty have of Carl Opgaard? What are his qualities? What are his plans? Overall, the impressions the staff give of Opgaard are very favourable. Dave Harrison gives his first impressions of the new president:
Opgaard, I think, struck most of us as open to suggestions, flexible to new approaches, and more than that -- almost fiercely challenging us to make of this college a place where students could learn and grow, in ways quite distinctively different from universities and high schools. What kind of a college did this man plan to lead? The question was too much for at least one faculty member to keep for even a day. I vividly remember Bart Sorensen, leaning across to the President at that first lunch (and saying), "And what IS your philosophy of a college?"
It was what you'd probably call a mind-blowing question. Opgaard's answer was more or a mind-expander: "I suppose," he mused, "you could say it's reflected in the people around this table." It wasn't just that Opgaard had chosen a bunch of people who reflected his own viewpoints, about the way a college should run and the way its members would teach and learn. I think he felt that the college idea -- call it a philosophy or an ethos if you like -- would grow from the people in it, rather than from a list of aims and objectives that somebody or some group on high had decreed to be "put into effect as of..."
Diane Einblau seems to agree that the president was flexible but remembers a more humorous angle. She recalls that "he was really interested in getting the music department going and he really wanted a marching band. He was from Washington State and they are big on marching bands there. Our idea of a music department was to have classical and maybe jazz and his idea was -- whatever it takes to get a marching band. But he never tried to push things on us. He would have liked to have a marching band but we said, 'Don't be silly, we'll have classical and jazz.' He'd understand, he was adaptable."
Bob Lane remembers Opgaard's positive approach to education: "He had a good strong sense that he wanted students who came to the college to have a positive educational experience and that's why we had the struggle with the NCG." The NCG is a mark that means "No Credit Granted". Instead of giving F's, Hal Brown and Carl Opgaard think the students should be assigned NCG's to make their time at Malaspina a more positive learning experience. Inevitably, there is much debate about this but the NCG isn't dropped until about 1985.
There probably isn't anyone who would deny that Carl Opgaard was exemplary as Malaspina's first president. Oliver Neaves says, "I think the driving force behind the college was Carl Opgaard. He was the right man at that particular place and time. He was an excellent chief executive officer and he almost had a passion for community colleges. He always emphasized that it should be a community college and that we should have dialog with the community." In his first years in Nanaimo, Dr. Opgaard's face and name is often found in the local papers, tending to make him synonymous with the new college. In every article his words reflect a positive attitude and a primary concern that the college reflect the needs of the community.
Perhaps the best way to understand what kind of man Carl Opgaard is, one needs to see his words. His positive nature and overwhelming enthusiasm towards Malaspina become evident through the words of a speech he gives to the Chamber of Commerce in 1970:
These institutions, the colleges, have come, have risen from the people and they are there to serve the people...The college is an example of something that has come into existence because of people seeking ways to help themselves to a better life. I don't say that just because a student drops out at Malaspina College, that we have necessarily failed; not if we have helped him look at himself as he really is, not if we have helped him develop a positive self-concept...Our objective is instruction...We should be the best teaching institution there is in the province...We must put our resources to bear on, somehow or another, having a positive influence on the attitudes and behavior of the total communities which we serve and make this community better for the fact that we exist here...Every year that goes by that the community does not have this kind of an institution, there are individuals within that community who are suffering.
The idea had form and shape; it had a voice, and a place to be heard. The foundation was in place: philosophy, people and place.
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